Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Agriculture

A new independent report (published Tue 7 Jan) sets out how Scotland’s agriculture sector can comfortably reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 38% by 2045 and could go beyond this.

Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Agriculture by Organic Policy, Business and Research Consultancy (Written by Nic Lampkin, Laurence Smith and Katrin Padel), commissioned by WWF Scotland, highlights the most important mitigation measures which can be made on a farm level with little or no land use change. These include measures to improve nitrogen fertiliser use, improvements to animal health and breeding, rotational grazing, feed additives and using legumes (e.g. clovers) to fix nitrogen.

It also identifies system level changes which could deliver significant carbon savings, including a shift to organic production, agroforestry (integrating trees in farms) and conservation agriculture (with a focus on soil health and plant diversity). The measures are feasible, well-evidenced, use established technologies and can be implemented singly or in combination.

Scottish farmers are at the front line of climate change. The extreme weather of 2017-18 alone is estimated to have cost Scottish farmers £161 million due to livestock losses and lower crop yields.

To help farmers adapt to our changing climate, WWF is calling on the Scottish Government to review the policy and support framework required to secure a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and maximise the carbon removed from the atmosphere and locked up in our soils and plants. This is essential if Scotland is to meet net zero emissions by 2045. There are opportunities in the forthcoming Budget, the Agriculture Bill currently before Parliament, and the revision to the Climate Plan in 2020, to put in place new support mechanisms for climate-friendly farming.

Dr Sheila George, Food and Environment Policy Manager at WWF Scotland said: “Agriculture is at risk from a changing climate but can be part of the climate solution – our land is our biggest natural defence against climate change and farmers and other land managers have a key role in protecting it. We need to produce food in a way that reduces emissions and locks up more carbon. By adapting our farming methods, Scotland could be at the forefront of the global transition to climate-friendly farming with unique export and branding opportunities arising. To get there, we need to see a reframing of rural policy, financial support along with advice and training available for land managers.”

Ruth Taylor, Climate Change Policy Manager at National Farmers Union Scotland said: “Climate change is a critically important issue for Scottish agriculture, and it is vital that farmers are part of the solution to climate change. Any policy introduced to tackle climate change must consider the long-term sustainability of farming and food production in Scotland. Measures to reduce emissions should provide practical measures that contribute to climate change challenges while maintaining production and driving forward the performance of agricultural businesses. Reducing emissions from agriculture in Scotland should not come at the expense of exporting our emissions or displacing production. The introduction of a suite of measures to mitigate climate change will be important – it is clear that there will be no ‘one size fits all’ solution to reducing emissions from agriculture.”

Professor Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh said: “At a time of such great uncertainty for Scotland’s farmers this report makes clear just how vital they are in tackling climate change and achieving ‘Net Zero’. Scotland is renowned for its food and drink. It is also renowned for climate action. Now is the time to combine them. Scotland can show the world how to secure rural livelihoods, enhance biodiversity and rapidly cut emissions. From improved use of nitrogen fertilisers and feed additives, to animal health and agroforestry, there are many strategies already being used to boost productivity and reduce environmental impacts. By making these accessible to all, through robust farm-level support and advice, we can forge a sustainable path to net zero emissions for the whole nation. Today our food and drink are the envy of the world. Get this right, and we can help ensure it is the low carbon envy of tomorrow’s world too.”

Nigel Miller, Co-chair and member of Farming for 1.5 Independent Inquiry said: “WWF Scotland has created an evidence-based report which will inject much needed positive momentum to the climate change debate which hangs over Scotland’s farmed area.Conventional climate change models for agriculture have been built on two land use priorities; the sustainable intensification of agriculture and the freeing up of land for sequestration through higher levels of tree cover. Those two extreme land use categories will play a role in securing both food security and sequestration. However, a third way built on multifunctional eco-farming, as mapped out by WWF, opens the door to multiple benefits and should be a component of Scotland’s land use mix post 2045.”

Lampkin N, Smith L, Padel K (2019) Delivering on net zero: Scottish Agriculture. A report by Organic Policy, Business and Research Consultancy for WWF Scotland , Edinburgh.

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